CHANGES IN THE STRUCTURE OF
FLORIDA VEGETABLE FARMS
Donald L. Brooke
Staff Paper 138 October 1979
Staff Papers are circulated without formal review
by the Food and Resource Economics Department.
Content is the sole responsibility of the author.
Food and Resource Economics Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
I am grateful for the review and valuable suggestions offered
by my colleagues, Glenn Zepp and Alvin Spurlock. Appreciation is
expressed also to Ms. Shirley Harris for painstaking typing of the
drafts and final manuscript. Any errors of omission or commission
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . ... . 1
ACREAGE, PRODUCTION AND VALUE OF SALES . . . 2
TYPE OF ORGANIZATION . . . .... ..... .3
FARM OPERATORS .. . . . . . 4
Age . . . . . . . 4
Tenure . . . ..... ...... 4
Residence . . . . . . 6
Off-Farm Work . . ... . . .. 7
Off-Farm Income . . . . ... .. 8
SIZE OF FARM AND VALUE OF SALES . . ..... 8
CHARACTERISTICS OF SELECTED VEGETABLE FARMS . . .. 10
Beans, Snap and Pole .... . . . .. 10
Celery ........ ...... . ........... 13
Corn, Sweet . . . . .. . 14
Tomatoes . . . . ... ....... 15
Watermelons . . . . ... ..... .17
GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS . . . .... ..... 18
Minimum Wages ... . . . .. .. 18
OSHA and EPA . . . . . .18
Social Security and Workman's Compensation . ... 19
Wetback Legislation . . . .... .. 19
Government Payments . . . .... 19
Income and Estate Taxes . . . ... 19
Marketing Orders . ... .. . ..... 19
Tariffs . . . . ... ...... .20
CREDIT . . . .. .. . . . 20
MARKETING . .. . . ... .. ....... 21
SUMMARY . . . ... . . .22
LIST OF TABLES
1 Number of Vegetable Farms, Acreage in Farms, Total
Production, Value of Vegetable Sales and Averages
Per Farm, Florida, by Census Years 1945 to 1974 . 3
2 Type of Organization of Florida Vegetable Farms
by Census Years, 1969-1974 . . . 4
3 Age of Florida Vegetable Farm Operators by Census
Years . . . .. ........ ..... 5
4 Tenure of Operator on Florida Vegetable Farms by
Census Years, 1945-1974 . . . . 6
5 Proportion of Vegetable Sales by Tenure of Operator
on Florida Vegetable Farms by Census Years, 1945-1974 7
6 Area of Residence of Florida Vegetable Farm Operators
by Selected Census Years, 1950-1974 .. . .. 7
7 Off-Farm Work by Florida Vegetable Farm Operators
by Census Years, 1945-1974 . . . 8
8 Percent of Florida Vegetable Farm Operators Reporting
Off-Farm Income In Excess of Value of Agricultural
Products Sold by Selected Census Years, 1950-1974 .. .. 8
9 Size Distribution of Florida Vegetable Farms by
Census Years, 1945-1974 . . .... ... 9
10 Proportion of Vegetable Sales by Size of Florida
Vegetable Farm by Census Years, 1945-1974 . .. 10
11 Characteristics of Selected Florida Vegetable
Farms by Census Years, 1945-1974 . .. 11
12 Volume of Selected Vegetables Marketed in Florida
at Five Year Intervals 1944-45 to 1974-75 ...... 12
CHANGES IN THE STRUCTURE OF FLORIDA
VEGETABLE FARMS 1945-1974
Donald L. Brooke-
Recognition by Florida farmers that they had two advantages in the
production of winter fresh market vegetables (a mild winter climate and
nearness to markets) sparked the first plantings in the late 1800's for
shipment to northern markets and spawned an infant industry which is
still growing. During most years, Florida's climate permits growing
cold sensitive vegetables in its extreme southern areas throughout
the winter. Currently Florida growers ship commercial quantities of
fresh vegetables continuously from October through July. California,
Texas and a few minor supply areas ship during the fall and again in
the late spring. Mexican exports of fresh vegetables to the U.S. are
concentrated during the December to April period.
Florida enjoys a locational advantage over California, Texas and
Mexico in that it is closer to the large northeastern U.S. markets and
therefore, has lower freight costs. Rising energy costs may further
enhance Florida's competitive advantage due to location, as higher fuel
prices increase transportation costs from the distant supply areas more
than from Florida.
The changes that have taken place in the once infant industry and
some of the reasons for those changes are the subjects of this paper.
/Donald L. Brooke is an Economist in the Food and Resource
Economics Department, Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations,
ACREAGE, PRODUCTION AND VALUE OF SALES
The number of farms reporting vegetables for sale in Florida
reached a peak in 1945, Table 1. Farms reporting vegetable sales
declined in each successive agricultural census period since then.
The largest decrease in vegetable farms was reported between 1954
and 1959: the number falling from 9,766 to 4,727, a decrease of
52 percent in a five year period.-
The acres reported on vegetable farms has not changed nearly as
much as the number of farms. Vegetable acreage increased by 21 per-
cent between 1950 and 1954, then, declined 15 percent by 1959. Acre-
age reported in 1974 was only 7 percent less than that reported in
1945, while the number of farms reporting sales of vegetables had
declined 85 percent during the same period.
The average number of acres per vegetable farm increased dra-
matically from 15 acres in 1945, when most farms were small, to 105
acres by 1969. Growers had increased labor output by adopting new
production technology and mechanizing for greater efficiency.
Total production of vegetables more than doubled from 1945 to
1954 and tripled between 1945 and 1974. All of the increase resulted
from increased yield per acre as total acreage of vegetables was
smaller in the later period than in the former.
The value of vegetable sales at the farm level also increased
between 1945 and 1974 from $42 million in the former year to more
than $322 million in the latter. Since value of sales data are re-
ported in current dollars some of the increase is due to money in-
flation. Deflating the 1974 sales by the consumer price index-/ to
1945 dollars to remove the effect of inflation on total sales gives
a figure of $117.5 million for 1974, or about 2.8 times as large as
2/Some of the change in farm numbers resulted from changing def-
initions of "a farm." The greatest change in all farms was between
1954 and 1959 which reduced 1959 statewide farm numbers by about 6.8
percent. Some downward bias in farm numbers occurs also in the 1969
and 1974 data with the elimination of some reporting for farms with
sales of less than $2,500.
3U.S. Department of Labor.
the actual 1945 sales. The average value of sales per farm increased
from less than $3,000 in 1945 to more than $140,000 in 1974. As with
total sales, much of the increase in sales per farm was due to money
inflation. Deflating 1974 sales to 1945 dollars results in sales per
farm of $51,465 in the latter period, or about 18.6 times as large as
the 1945 sales per farm.
Table 1.--Number of Vegetable Farms,a Acreage in Farms, Total Production,
Value of Vegetable Sales and Averages Per Farm, Florida, by
Census Years 1945 to 1974
All Vegetable Farms
Years Number Acres Total Value Per farm
production of sales Acreage Value
(000 cwt.) (000)
1945 15,316 231,243 14,177 $ 42,421 15.1 $ 2,770
1950 10,942 267,152 24,105 59,743 24.4 5,460
1954 9,766 323,909 32,086 78,267 33.2 8,014
1959 4,727 273,702 29,356 81,910 57.9 17,328
1964 3,653 290,242 36,362 146,094 79.5 39,993
1969 2,591 273,232 31,396 232,437 105.5 89,709
1974 2,284 215,418 43,968 322,042 94.3 140,999
aVegetable, sweet corn and melon farms reporting vegetables for sale.
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Agri-
culture, Florida, 1950-1974; Rose, G. N., Fla. Agr. Exp. Sta. Food and
Resource Economics Dept., "Florida Vegetables, Melons, Irish Potatoes and
Strawberries--A Historic Data Series," Economics Report 85, May 1977; Fla.
Crop & Livestock Reporting Serv. "Vegetable Summary, 1975."
TYPE OF ORGANIZATION
Data are lacking on the type of organization of vegetable farms
before 1969 as the census of agriculture did not report that information
before that time. However, the 1969 census reported 72 percent of
Florida's vegetable farms were individually or family operated and 12
percent were corporations, Table 2. That had changed only slightly by
Table 2.--Type of Organization of Florida Vegetable Farms
Type of Organization
Individual or family 72 76
Partnership 16 12
Corporation 12 12
Other a a
All 100 100
aLess than 0.5 percent.
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of the
Agriculture, Florida, 1969-1974.
Census, U.S. Census of
1974. Although not shown in the data corporate type organization in-
creased in the early 60's after Congressional action permitted Sub-
chapter S corporations in 1958.
Age: The average age of vegetable farm operators increased by slightly
over three years between 1950 and 1974, from nearly 47 years in 1950 to
about 50 in 1974, Table 3. The entry of young farmers did not keep pace
with the advancing age of all vegetable farmer operators. Perhaps in-
creasing capital requirements inhibited entry of young operators into
farming. The proportion of operators in the older category declined
and the percentage in the 55 to 64 year group increased.
Tenure: In 1945 nearly two-thirds of vegetable farm operators were
full owners/ and about one-eighth were part owners, Table 4. By 1974
full owners and part owners were reported in equal proportions.
4/c.f. Table 4.
Table 3.--Age of Florida Vegetable Farm Operators by Census Years,
Age of Operator
1945 1950 1959 1964 1969 1974
Percent of operators
Under 25 years 3.3 2.8 0.3 0.8 1.7 1.7
25 to 34 years 13.8 16.8 10.4 8.0 11.2 11.3
35 to 44 years 23.7 25.9 27.1 20.0 20.7 21.3
45 to 54 years 23.1 26.0 35.8 34.4 28.5 27.3
55 to 64 years 17.8 18.9 21.8 29.6 28.5 25.6
65 years and
over 18.3 9.6 4.6 7.2 9.4 12.8
All 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
(years) a 46.6 47.7 a 49.4 49.9
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau
culture, Florida, 1945-1974.
of the Census, U.S. Census of Agri-
Changing credit arrangements are believed partly responsible for the
changes in tenure which took place in the 50's and 60's. More operators
were entering into credit arrangements where one party furnished credit
for materials, rent, and harvesting costs while the farmer provided
machinery, labor and supervision of the growing operations. In some
cases packing house operators used this method to assure volume for
efficient operation of the packing house and sales force. Farm operators
were assured of materials to produce a crop and a packing and sales out-
let for the product. Profits, or losses, were shared according to the
contractual arrangements. Partly responsible too, is the practice of
farming on rented land and moving to new locations with successive crops
or in successive years to escape weeds and diseases.
The proportion of vegetable sales by type of ownership changed also
between 1945 and 1974. The share of sales by full owners declined from
38 percent to 12 percent.while that of part owners increased from 35
percent in 1945 to 52 percent in 1974, Table 5. The share of sales by
tenants increased from 15 percent to 36 percent, respectively.
Table 4.--Tenure of Operator on Florida Vegetable Farms by Census Years,
Type of Tenurea Cen ea
1945 1950 1954 1959 1964 1969 1974
Full owners 63 55 52 40 38 37 40
Part owners 13 27 33 42 45 43 40
Tenants 23 16 14 18 15 20 20
Other 1 2 1 2 -
All 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
aClassifications of tenure (1969 Census).
a. Full owners, who operate only land they own.
b. Part owners, who operate land they own and also land
they rent from others; and
c. Tenants, who operate only land they rent from others,
or work on shares for others.
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of
Agriculture, Florida, 1945-1974.
Residence: Area of residence was not reported in the 1945 Census but
since farms were small and primarily owner and tenant operated it is
not difficult to imagine that most vegetable farmers lived on the farm.
That conclusion is supported by the 1950 data which show three-fourths
of all vegetable farm operators resided on the farm, Table 6. That
proportion declined to two-thirds by 1959 and to 43 percent in both
1969 and 1974. A high percentage of operators did not report residence
in 1974. It is felt by this author that many of these did not reside
on farms. The increasing tendency of vegetable farm operators to rent
new land for crop production on an annual or bi-annual basis supports
an off-farm residence.
Table 5.--Proportion of Vegetable Sales by Tenure of Operator on Florida
Vegetable Farms by Census Years, 1945-1974
Type of Tenure
1945 1950 1954 1959 1964 1969 1974
Percent of sales
Full owners 38.3 42.5 25.4 18.6 9.0 13.3 12.3
Part owners 34.7 29.4 47.6 44.0 50.9 54.3 51.8
Managers 11.5 19.2 13.3 19.1 16.2 a a
Tenants 15.5 8.9 13.7 18.3 23.9 32.4 35.9
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: U.S. Dept. Com., Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Agri-
culture, Florida, 1945-1974.
Table 6.--Area of Residence of Florida Vegetable Farm Operators by
Selected Census Years, 1950-1974
1950 1959 1969 1974
Percent of operators
On farm 76 66 43 43
Off farm 21 28 46 19
Not reporting 3 6 11 39
Total 100 100 100 100
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of
Agriculture, Florida, 1950-1974.
Off-Farm Work: From one-fourth to one-third of vegetable farm operators
reported working off-farm between 1950 and 1974, Table 7. The percent-
age of operators working off-farm more than 100 days increased signif-
icantly during the period.
Table 7.--Off-Farm Work by Florida Vegetable Farm Operators by Census
1950 1954 1959 1964 1969 1974
Percent of operators
Working off farm 27 35 29 30 33 26
1-99 days 15 16 11 14 10 4
100 days or more 12 19 18 16 23 22
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of
Agriculture, Florida, 1950-1974.
Off-Farm Income: The proportion of vegetable farm operators reporting
off-farm income in excess of agriculturally related income changed
relatively little between 1950 and 1974, Table 8.
Table 8.--Percent of Florida Vegetable Farm Operators Reporting Off-
Farm Income In Excess of Value of Agricultural Products
Sold by Selected Census Years, 1950-1974
Census Year Percent of Operators
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of the Census,
Agriculture, Florida, 1950-1974.
U.S. Census of
SIZE OF FARM AND VALUE OF SALES
The 1945 Census data indicate that nearly three-fifths of vegetable
farms were less than 50 acres-/ in size and that less than 5 percent were
5/Acreage owned and rented by the farm operator, not all of which
may have been planted to income producing vegetable crops.
over 500 acres, Table 9. The percentage of farms under 50 acres had
decreased to about one-fourth by 1974 while that of farms 500 acres
and over had increased to one-fifth of all vegetable farms. Farms of
100 to 500 acres were 20 percent in 1945 and 41 percent in 1974.
Table 9.--Size Distribution of Florida Vegetable Farms by
Size of Farm
1945 1950 1959 1964 1969 1974
Percent of farms
1 to 9 acres 19.7 11.3 5.1 5.9 4.1 3.6
10 to 49 acres 38.8 42.4 33.5 27.7 22.2 21.4
50 to 99 acres 17.0 16.7 18.8 18.0 16.8 13.8
100 to 139 acres 6.4 6.1 8,1 8.4 11.0 9.4
140 to 179 acres 5.2 5.9 6.0 6.4 7.6 6.4
180 to 219 acres 2.5 2.7 3.2 4.5 5.2 5.6
220 to 259 acres 2.1 2.7 1.8 3.5 2.8 4.4
260 to 499 acres 4.1 5.8 12.5 11.2 12.4 15.2
500 to 999 acres 1.6 3.2 6.0 7.2 10.0 11.2
1,000 acres & over 2.6 3.2 5.0 7.2 7.9 9.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: U.S. Dept. Com. Bureau of
Agriculture, Florida, 1945-1974.
the Census, U.S. Census of
The proportion of sales by small farms likewise decreased from 1945
to 1974. The 58 percent of the farms under 50 acres reported 22 percent
of the value of all vegetable sales in 1945, Tables 9 and 10. The 25
percent of the farms under 50 acres reported only 2 percent of 1974
vegetable sales. Large farm sales, (500 acres and over) increased
from 32 percent in 1945 to nearly 68 percent of all vegetable farm
sales in 1974. There seems little doubt that considerable economies
in scale of operation must exist in vegetable production. Farming units
have increased in size and the proportion of total sales by large units
have likewise increased.
Table 10.--Proportion of Vegetable Sales by Size of Florida Vegetable
Farm by Census Years, 1945-1974
Size of Farm
1945 1950 1959 1964 1969 1974
Percent of sales
1 to 9 acres 6.8 1.7 0.7 0.3 0.1 0.2
10 to 49 acres 15.4 10.7 4.7 1.9 1.8 2.0
50 to 99 acres 13.8 8.1 5.3 4.0 3.2 2.8
100 to 139 acres 3.0 3.8 4.0 3.0 3.6 3.8
140 to 179 acres 7.0 6.4 4.3 3.1 2.8 3.5
180 to 219 acres 6.5 3.0 4.2 3.2 3.4 3.5
220 to 259 acres 3.0 3.2 2.1 2.8 2.5 2.7
260 to 499 acres 12.3 12.2 14.0 11.4 12.0 13.6
500 to 999 acres 5.1 16.7 17.8 20.0 19.9 18.5
1,000 acres and over 27.1 34.2 43.0 50.3 50.7 49.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: U.S. Dept.
of Agriculture, Florida,
of Commerce, Bureau of the
Census, U.S. Census
CHARACTERISTICS OF SELECTED VEGETABLE FARMS
Beans, snap and pole: The number of snap bean farms decreased from over
4,300 in 1945 to 213 in 1974. At the same time the average acres per
farm, owned or rented and planted to beans, increased from 21 to 124
acres, Table 11. The total production of beans however, had decreased
by 22 percent during that time, Table 12.
During this period of 30 years fresh bean producers faced in-
creasing competition from canned and frozen beans in the supermarket.
Labor had become increasingly difficult to hold on the farm because of
rising wages in the non-farm sector. Risk of crop failure was always
present and price fluctuations were great for a commodity with a declining
consumer demand. During the late 40's and early 50's many growers termi-
nated production because they could not cope with low prices and low
Table 11.--Characteristics of Selected Florida Vegetable Farms by Census Years, 1945-1974
Crop and Item 1945 1950 1954 1959 1964 1969a 1974a
Beans, Snap and Pole
Number of farms 4,331 2,703 1,855 883 536 271 213
Acres 91,206 74,437 56,407 36,805 39,213 23,612 26,518
Acres per farm 21 28 30 42 73 87 124
Number of farms 320 165 77 54 32 22 23
Acres 10,474 9,589 7,604 13,419 12,361 10,696 10,948
Acres per farm 33 58 99 248 386 486 476
Number of farms b 1,812 1,028 499 264 200 213
Acres 16,489 27,840 34,434 46,293 49,595 49,514
Acres per farm 9 27 69 175 248 232
Number of farms 4,976 3,214 1,798 933 522 373 294
Acres 27,707 32,121 48,052 37,977 44,805 54,995 35,916
Acres per farm 6 10 27 41 86 147 122
Number of farms b 4,046 4,562 1,917 1,514 810 659
Acres 54,312 88,041 52,629 48,214 32,750 28,186
Acres per farm 13 19 28 32 40 43
aFarms with sales of $2,500 or more.
Source: U.S. Dept. Com., Bureau of the
Census, U.S. Census of Agriculture, Florida,
Table 12.--Volume of Selected Vegetables Marketed in Florida at Five Year
Intervals 1944-45 to 1974-75
Season B snp Celery Corn, Tomatoesa Watermelons
Season & pole Sweet
1944-45 1,631 3,247 b 2,181 2,535
1949-50 1,870 3,752 1,482 4,270 3,716
1954-55 2,045 4,124 3,015 7,653 7,214
1959-60 1,391 4,169 3,044 5,193 7,266
1964-65 1,338 4,548 3,623 8,534 9,300
1969-70 989 4,012 3,943 5,289 6,888
1974-75 1,273 4,164 5,035 8,529 8,066
alncludes fresh and processing.
Source: Rose, G. N., Fla. Agr. Exp. Sta. Food & Resource Econ.
Dept. "Florida Vegetables, Melons, Irish Potatoes and Strawberries--A
Historic Data Series," Economics Report 85, May 1977.
Growers who chose to remain had to make changes to continue farming.
New varieties, either better producers or more disease resistant, were
adopted as rapidly as seed became available. Those who farmed in the
relatively frost-free area tended to specialize in bean production and
adopted a schedule of weekly plantings to assure relatively constant
work for labor, both production and harvesting. This accomplished two
things. First, it made it possible to hold production labor on the
farm and to use contract harvesting crews on a continuing basis during
much of the crop year. Secondly, it spread risk of crop failure and low
prices over a greater portion of the year, reducing chances of a complete
Labor problems at harvest time continued and growers became interested
in mechanical harvesters. After considerable experimentation, and some
design changes by manufacturers and farmers, a double row harvester was
adopted in the mid 60's. It would harvest four to five acres per day
and could displace about 100 hand pickers at savings of as much as $0.80
per 30 pound hamper.-
Harvesters were expensive ($16,000 in 1967) and to pay for them
required maximum possible use. One machine harvested 550 acres when
used five days per week and 25 weeks per year. Growers planned their
production around the capacity of a harvester. Several growers added
a second or third harvester, thus creating farms of more than 1,500
acres devoted solely to bean production. Profits per unit of production
were small but large volume compensated farmers with an adequate income.
Pole bean growers could not take advantage of the harvester but
have mechanized in other ways. They have managed to hold labor on the
farm and spread risk by successive plantings to provide relatively con-
stant employment throughout the growing season. Two hundred to 400
acre pole bean farms are the norm. A few growers combine pole beans
with squash or southern peas. The latter also are mechanically har-
Celery: The production of celery is confined primarily to the mucklands
of both the Everglades and Central Florida areas. That has not always
been the case. As late as 1949 the acreage of celery produced on sand
in Central Florida was equal to the acreage in the Everglades muck.
However, the large acreage farms and longer growing season of farms in
the Everglades region gave them a comparative advantage over the smaller
sandland farms in Central Florida, resulting in a gradual reduction in
the number of the latter operations.
The number of celery farms decreased from 320 in 1945 to 23 in
1974, while the average acreage per farm increased from 33 to 476 acres,
respectively, Table 11. Acreages per farm increased as the number of
smaller sandland farms decreased.
Celery is a labor-intensive crop from the production of plants in
seedbeds to the harvesting and packing operation in the field or packing-
house. To combat rising labor costs growers turned to mechanization to
-/Brooke, D. L. and A. H. Spurlock, Fla. Agr. Exp. Sta. Agr. Econ.
Dept. "Cost of Harvesting Snap Beans by Machine," Econ. Mimeo. Rpt.
Ec. 68-2, Oct. 1967.
increase labor efficiency. Technological changes were adopted as
rapidly as they were introduced. New and better yielding or disease
resistant varieties, weed killers, multiple row cultivators and spray
machines, better insecticides and fungicides all helped increase labor
efficiency and production.
In the late 1940's the mobile field harvester-packinghouse was
developed to better utilize labor and reduce hauling costs. Hand
cutters trimmed stalks and placed them on a moving belt which trans-
ferred stalks to the mobile packinghouse for washing, grading and
packing. Crates were loaded directly on trucks and then driven to
Subsequent developments in harvesters included automatic stalk
cutters with a mechanical pick up attachment. The latest development
is a two-row tractor-mounted harvester which cuts stalks and elevates
them into wagons for direct transport to mobile packinghouses parked
near the field or to permanent packinghouses. This latter development
has reduced field labor requirements and increased labor efficiency in
the harvest operation. It also increased capital requirements for
The celery industry was faced with a major decision in 1960. Pro-
fits in three prior seasons had been low or lacking because of increasing
supplies and low season average prices. Credit sources were reluctant to
extend further credit without some form of organized marketing. Growers
adopted a state marketing order which was changed to federal in 1965 to
control the volume and quality of the product being marketed. They also
organized a cooperative of handlers to sell the product for growers.
Such innovations as guaranteed prices and marketing holidays were used
to reduce violent fluctuations in prices from day to day and week to week.
Controlled marketing has worked well for Florida celery growers. Flow
to market has been orderly and price fluctuations are much less frequent
and violent. Grower benefits have been reduced price risk, higher season
average prices and greater credit availability.
Corn, Sweet: Sweet corn is a relative newcomer to commercial importance
among Florida's vegetables. With the development of varieties adapted
to Florida conditions after World War II growers were quick to adopt the
new crop. Snap beans were becoming relatively unprofitable and sweet
corn was a natural replacement on the muck soils of the Everglades. The
1950 Census reported 1,812 farms producing over 16,000 acres of sweet
corn. By 1974 the number of commercial growers had declined to 213 but
acreage had increased to 49,500, Table 11. Production too, had increased
from 1,482,000 cwt. in 1950 to 5,035,000 cwt. in 1974-75, Table 12.
Sweet corn production requires relatively little labor and lends
itself well to mechanization. The acreage per farm increased by a factor
of 25 times in as many years. Harvesting and packing are more labor
intensive and mechanical harvesting is being used. Modified "mule trains"
were introduced first and performed well. Later innovations introduced
mechanical picking and elevation to dump trucks for stationary packing-
house packing. These changes in technology have increased labor efficiency
Sweet corn marketing was under a state marketing order to provide for
more orderly product flow, standardize containers, require precooling and
prevent unfair marketing practices. Some cooperative selling and price
protection was attempted but it had limited success. The order has been
inoperative for some time. Despite Florida's market monopoly for early
spring corn, overproduction and low prices in May of each year plague
the industry. Perhaps when grower numbers reach 50 or fewer, as in the
case of celery, effective production and marketing cooperation can be
Tomatoes: From many small farm operations of fewer than 10 acres per
farm to a small number of farms of more than 100 acres has been the trend
in Florida tomato production, Table 11. At the same time total production
has quadrupled in the 30 years between 1945 and 1975, Table 12.
Two types of cultivation are used for tomato production. Ground
culture was predominant until the mid-1960's. Open field plantings on
prepared beds gave an extensive type culture requiring relatively little
hand labor except for planting and weeding. Vines were allowed to spread
out on beds, without support. Picking was by hand and most crops were
picked two or three times with the bulk of the yield being obtained in the
second picking. Yields per acre ranged from 7,500 pounds to 15,000 pounds
per acre in most seasons.
Staked culture, the second type, was more widely adopted by growers
on a large scale in the mid- to late 1950's when vine-ripened production
became popular. Fields were carefully prepared for water control, plants
were placed closer together and stakes were driven for plant support.
Twine and stakes supported plants as growth progressed and vines were
not allowed to touch the ground. Plants were tied 3 to 5 times and
suckers pruned once or twice. As the fruit matured selective picking
occurred. "Breaking" fruit were removed three times per week as long as
plants continued to mature marketable fruit. Thus, the fruit was removed
from the plant as many as 20 or 25 times during the season. This method
required much more hand labor than ground culture and was expensive to
produce and harvest. However, total yields were higher, sufficiently so
to foster increasing acreages. Yields ranged from 15,000 to 30,000
pounds and averaged around 21,000 pounds.
The evolution of staked culture for vine-ripe production to staked
culture for "green wrap" production was gradual, although some of it had
preceded "vine-ripes." Higher yielding varieties adapted to stake culture
were adopted along with plastic mulch and single row irrigation systems.
Growers had the option of vine-ripe or "green wrap" harvesting and con-
trolled atmosphere ripening rooms to initiate uniform ripening. With
these changes per acre yields ranged from 21,000 to 36,000 pounds and
averaged around 27,000 pounds in 1974-75.
Florida growers have faced competition from a foreign source since
the late 1940's. First it was competition from Cuba and after 1959-60
Mexican imports became increasingly important. For more orderly marketing
Florida growers adopted a federal marketing order in 1955. It regulated
volume and quality by restrictions on grades and sizes moving in inter-
state commerce and likewise placed restrictions on imports. Internal
dissention caused tabling of the marketing order in 1959. It was rein-
stated in the 1968-69 season to control volume, quality, and container
sizes and to require shipping point inspection. The size restrictions
also apply to Mexican imports. The marketing order is still in operation.
The integration of production, packing and sales either by individuals
or through cooperatives has been a continuing practice in tomato marketing.
Large growers have their own packinghouses or are members of cooperative
associations which pack and sell for their membership. Some individuals
operate packinghouses and sales organizations for growers who are too
small to operate their own houses. Volume in the independent houses may
be obtained by credit extension or individual marketing arrangements with
Watermelons: The production of watermelons is practiced in more counties
in Florida than for any other vegetable. Practices are extensive and a
high rate of turnover exists among operators. Two types of extensive
culture are practiced. In southwest Florida new land is preferred for
watermelon production and it is cleared for each new crop. There are
some weed and disease control advantages to this practice. In addition
land owners encourage this practice to provide a good seedbed for the
establishment of improved pastures for cattle. Water control is effected
by placing dikes around field perimeters with lateral ditches running
through the field and connecting to the perimeter canal. Wells are dug
for each 40 to 80 acres and pumps installed for irrigation and drainage.
After melon production the land may be used for a crop of tomatoes or
peppers and then planted to pasture or citrus.
In other parts of Florida irrigation is needed but elaborate drain-
age systems are usually not necessary. Land is rotated with pasture and
other crops. As a consequence production costs are lower and, because
the crop is later in maturing, prices are generally lower and profits
more uncertain. It takes the industry two years to reduce production
in response to low profits but only one year to increase production after
The number of watermelon growers has decreased since 1950 but not as
rapidly as for other vegetables. There were 659 commercial growers re-
ported in 1974 and acreages per farm were still small compared to other
vegetables, Table 11. Production however, increased three-fold from 1945
to 1975, Table 12. New varieties have increased per acre yields materially
in the past 10 seasons..
Watermelon marketing is not highly organized. The bulk of the crop
appears to be handled by local and travelling brokers who move north with
the crop season. Transportation is almost entirely by truck and the lack
thereof is always a possibility. Losses for lack of transportation were
estimated at $1 million in 1979.Y/
Government regulations affect vegetable growers in diverse ways. The
following describes some of the important government programs and regulations
which impact on vegetable growers in Florida.
Minimum wages: Application of the minimum wage law to agriculture has had
the effect of increasing wages for unskilled production workers (hoe-hands,
weedpullers, plant setters, etc.) and increasing labor costs to the farmer.
It has probably had little effect on wages of machine operators since the
pay scale for these workers was usually above the minimum wage due to
competition with rates paid construction and service industry personnel.
Harvesting labor, usually unskilled, has historically been paid on a
piece-rate basis. Their incomes have been higher than the hourly wage
minimums. Packinghouse labor has been paid minimum wages or higher for
many years since they were included before the law was extended to farm
OSHA and EPA: OSHA requirements have caused vegetable growers to install
more safety devices on machinery and equipment. That has had the effect
of increasing capital requirements and pushing fixed costs upward.
EPA regulations have caused growers to substitute newer and more ex-
pensive chemicals for some of the cheaper materials that had been in use for
many years. While these new materials may be more effective in the long run,
their use has increased variable costs of production for vegetable crops.
State regulations on water standards, implemented by local water manage-
ment districts, call for consumptive use permits and holding ponds to assure
minimum run-off of phosphorous and nitrogen. Holding ponds require large
quantities of land which cannot be used for crop production. If these re-
gulations continue in force they will have the effect of reducing vegetable
acreage in cultivation.
7/Doyle Conner, Commissioner of Agriculture, Florida Trend Magazine,
Sept. 6, 1979. p. 54.
Social Security and Workman's Compensation: While of undoubted benefit
to the worker, both of these have had the effect of increasing labor costs
to vegetable growers. The fringe benefit costs of labor legislation are
as much as 13 to 20 percent of the wages of full-time employees.
Wetback Legislation: That legislation created an upward pressure on farm
wage rates. It reduced the available seasonal unskilled labor supply in
the West which had some effect on total seasonal labor supply of unskilled
workers. That legislation has also tended, by reducing labor supply, to
promote unionization of agricultural labor in California and Florida.
Governments Payments: Florida vegetable growers have not received govern-
ment payments for production or non-production of crops, nor have they had
the benefits of floor or ceiling prices. Some have received payments for
soil conserving practices and assistance in irrigation and drainage projects
by the Soil Conservation Service.
Income and Estate Taxes: Congressional changes in income tax legislation
which permitted the formation of Subchapter S corporations encouraged
family farm operations to incorporate. This had the effect of limiting
individual liability while still being taxed as a partnership.
Proposed changes in estate taxes will,.if carried out, make the
transfer of estate land to heirs more difficult and make access to land
easier for other types of owners, including foreign investors.
Marketing Orders: The Agricultural Marketing Agreements Act of 1937
which "permits marketing agreements with processors, producers, associations
of producers, and others who handle any agricultural commodity or its
products,"'/ has been used to advantage by some Florida vegetable growers.
Celery growers have the longest history of continuous operation under
a vegetable marketing agreement and order in Florida and have, perhaps
benefitted the most. The Florida Celery Marketing Act of 1959, Chapter 573,
Florida Statutes as amended permitted the organization of the Florida Celery
-'Shepherd, G. S. "Marketing Farm Products," The Iowa State College
Press, 1949, p. 433.
Committee in the 1961-62 season. In 1965 the State Act was declared
unconstitutional and the Florida Celery Committee was reorganized under
the Federal Act of 1937. The Committee has operated continuously and
with the help of the Florida Celery Exchange has succeeded in revitalizing
a sick industry.
The Florida Tomato Committee was organized under the Federal Act in
1955 to promote more orderly marketing of tomatoes from Florida. It was
tabled in 1959 only to be reinstated in 1968-69. It is still in operation
and is being used to control volume, quality, and container sizes and to
require shipping point inspection. It places the same size restrictions
on Mexican imports.
The sweet corn industry organized under The Florida Sweet Corn Mar-
keting Act of 1959 in January 1963 to improve returns to growers through
a more orderly system of marketing which included quantity regulations,
prohibition of unfair trade practices, inspection, container regulation,
research and advertising. The order operated for five years and was
discontinued after the 1967-68 season. The Florida Sweet Corn Exchange,
a cooperative bargaining association, which had been organized in 1963,
continued as the price recommending agent for growers and handlers.
Marketing orders and agreements have served vegetable growers well
where the growers have worked together closely enough to realize that some
individual sacrifices must be made if all are to realize benefits.
Tariffs: Tariffs on vegetable imports from foreign countries have been
of some value to Florida vegetable growers. Most affected by tariffs
have been the tomato growers. Tomato tariff rates of one to two cents
per pound during the Florida shipping season have had a deterring effect
on Mexican improts. Florida growers have been battling for higher tariffs
and import regulations since 1946 in the memory of this author.
Lack of credit does not appear to have had a negative effect on the
Florida vegetable industry in the past 35 years. There have, undoubtedly,
been some instances where growers were forced into bankruptcy because they
could no longer obtain credit. In most cases, somewhere and from some
source, credit was available if growers searched it out.
Short term credit for production purposes has been available from
Production Credit Associations, from some commercial banks, from agri-
business firms, from packinghouse operators and other individuals. In
the two latter cases, partnerships may have been arranged.
Intermediate term loans have been available from the PCA's, from
commercial banks and from machinery manufacturers.
The Farmers Home Administration has made many disaster loans to
large and small vegetable growers for short and intermediate term pur-
poses. Some farmers have been heard to complain that, "Farmers Home
loans are keeping the little and inefficient growers in business." This
author is aware of some large growers who would have quit but for the
help accorded by Farmers Home loans.
Long term credit for the purchase of land has been supplied by the
Federal Land Bank, and by insurance companies.
From the mid-1930's to the early 1950's an appreciable volume of
Florida vegetables was sold at auction from strategically located state
owned "Farmers Markets." Other vegetables were sold by packing and
selling firms for the account of the grower. Selling brokers were avail-
able for a commission.
In 1930 Florida had over 50 active cooperative associations selling
vegetables for their members./ Only one of the 1930 group survives
today and fewer than 20 cooperatives sell vegetables in Florida.
Auction selling from Farmers Markets was discontinued in the 1950's.
Private firms were selling on an f.o.b. basis, delivered, price arrival,
joint account, and on consignment. The latter three methods were used
by sales firms to dispose of excess supplies which, in many cases, resulted
in further depressing prices. Returns to growers were generally so poor
M1. A. Brooker & H. G. Hamilton, "Farmers Cooperative Association
in Florida," Fa. Agr. Exp. Sta. Bull. 245, April 1932.
that price arrival, joint account and consignment selling were heavily
discouraged. Consignment sales are still widely used by some supply areas
and it is with these that Florida must compete.
Currently salesmen for individual and cooperative sales firms plus
selling brokers at shipping points, sell vegetables to terminal market
buyers by telephone. Most sales are made on an f.o.b. or delivered basis.
Charges for precooling and, in some cases, inspection prior to shipment
are paid by the buyer. Chain and large independent grocers are the
In 1945 rail shipments were 82 percent of the total carlot shipments
of vegetables from Florida. In 1974-75 truck shipments were 95 percent
of total carlot shipments of vegetables from Florida.- Flexibility of
movement for terminal market delivery, reduction in product handling
and reduced transportation costs favored trucks during the period.
Changes in energy costs may cause some changes in methods of transport.
Florida has two advantages in the production of vegetables.
(1) Weather--which permits production during those months of the year
(fall, winter, early spring) when few other domestic areas are in pro-
duction. (2) Location--which translates to cheaper transportation costs
from Florida points to the important markets east of the Mississippi
River. Neither of these advantages seems likely to change materially
in the foreseeable future. Florida will be a major factor in the pro-
duction of vegetables so long as suitable land remains available and con-
sumers are willing to pay adequately for fresh vegetables in the winter.
The vegetable industry in Florida has, since World War II, progressed
from a small farm economy to a large farm economy with the help of improve-
ments in varieties, production processes and mechanical technology. The
number of vegetable farms in 1974 was only about 15 percent of the number
reported in 1945 but their average size had increased more than six times
9/USDA, Fla. Crop and Livestock Reporting Serv., "Florida Agricultural
Statistics, Vegetable Summary." 1946 and 1975.
and the total output increased more than three-fold. The average value
of sales per vegetable farm increased by a factor of 50 from 1945 to 1974.
Three-fourths of all vegetable farms were family operated and only one-
eighth were corporations in 1974.
The average vegetable farm operator in 1950 was about 47 years of
age, was the full owner, and resided on the farm. In 1974 the average
vegetable farm operator was about 50 years of age, was a full or part
owner and lived off the farm.
In 1950, seventy percent of the farms were less than 100 acres and
sold 20 percent of all vegetables from the state. In 1974 thirty-nine
percent of the vegetable farms were less than 100 acres but accounted
for only 5 percent of all vegetable sales. Large farms, (over 500 acres)
were 6 percent of farms and sold 51 percent of sales in 1950. In 1974
large farms were 20 percent of the total number and accounted for 68
percent of vegetable sales.
The majority of vegetable growers operated on rented land for two
reasons. The first of these was the practice of farming new land to
escape weed and disease control problems prior to effective chemical
controls. Improved weed, nematode and disease control chemicals together
with plastic mulching have made successive cropping on the land economi-
cally feasible. The second reason stemmed from the reluctance of individ-
uals and corporations who hold land in large quantities to sell in small
to medium parcels for agricultural purposes. Real estate taxes have
historically been low making land cheap to hold. Land values have in-
creased rapidly and potential profits to the land owner from large real
estate developments have been expected to be much greater than sales for
The problem of labor scarcity and increasing wages was evident
shortly after World War II with increasing competition for labor from the
non-farm sector. To solve that problem growers tried all available means
to increase labor output. The most readily available method of accomplish-
ing that was to mechanize production. Two row equipment was replaced by
four row equipment, mobile planters and harvesters improved working
conditions for labor, fuel to operate machines was cheap compared to
wages and readily available so these means were adopted and labor output
as much in 1974 as they were in 1959. Therefore, one would expect fewer
farmers to attempt industry entry now than 15 years earlier.
Leaving vegetable farming has apparently been easy. One has only to
look at the number of farms now and the numbers 15 to 20 years earlier.
Leaving has not been without pain. Many growers say they have so much
invested in machinery and equipment that they cannot afford to quit.
Fixed costs of idle machinery are quite high and second hand machines
While not previously mentioned, it should be noted that, this
transition in farming has been made easier by research to find new
varieties of higher yielding and more disease resistant vegetables
and improved methods of crop culture and management. Credit should be
given to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Agricultural
Experiment Stations' and the many seed, fertilizer, and chemical
companies, and other agribusiness firms who have made the improvement
possible through their research and development efforts.
Government programs aimed at social welfare improvement may be of
long run benefit to vegetable growers.but have, in the short run, served
to place upward pressure on labor and production costs. Direct payment
programs have benefitted few; income and estate tax laws have been a
mixed blessing and; tariffs on vegetables have done little to discourage
imports. Marketing orders have been used by some vegetable growers to
their advantage in controlling volume, rapid price fluctuation and unfair
marketing practices. More can be accomplished when growers realize that
some sacrifices must be made by.the individual to realize the full bene-
fits of cooperation for all.
While isolated instances could be cited, vegetable growers as a whole,
have not suffered greatly from lack of credit for short, intermediate or
long term purposes. The Farm Credit System, commercial banks, insurance
companies, agribusiness firms and individuals have furnished adequate
Marketing of Florida vegetables has progressed from the small time
to the big time along with the changes taking place on farms. Small lot
selling at auction markets has given way to private treaty trading by
wire between relatively large sales organizations and large chain and
independent retail store purchasers. Emphasis is placed on uniformity,
quality and relatively constant availability of the product. Transpor-
tation by rail has given way to movement by truck because of the flex-
ibility of movement of trucks. Rising energy costs may force some changes
in that pattern.
Florida vegetable growers, then, have operated since 1945 to help
feed the nation fresh vegetables from October to July for a price which
they hoped would return a reasonable profit. They contended with in-
creasing prices for land, labor and materials, changes in weather, and
low and fluctuating prices for the product. To stay even they took timely
advantage of technological changes, brought about through research and
experimentation, to increase yields and improve the quality of product.
They used mechanization to combat rising labor costs by increasing output
per hour of input. This tended to increase capital requirements and
scale of operation to stay in business. Many small farmers who could
not make the adjustment were forced out. That those who remain have had
some measure of success is attested by the threefold increase in total
vegetable output from 1945 to 1974--and the pace continues.